Digital Platforms and Entrepreneurship in Trinidad and Tobago: Examining the Complexities of Technology Affordances and Constraints

This is a report on my Web Science PhD thesis ‘Digital Platforms and Entrepreneurship in Trinidad and Tobago: An examination of their Relationships using Technology Affordances and Constraints’. It summarises the findings and provides recommendations to entrepreneurs and policymakers supporting entrepreneurs. I adopted an interdisciplinary approach by integrating computer science, and social science (including business, and economic geography) concepts. I also developed a methodology to help reveal how complex technological, socio-cultural, historical, political, economic, and infrastructure factors connect to influence our interconnected societies. The executive summary from the report is provided below, and the full report can be accessed here: The Influence of Digital Platforms on Entrepreneurship in Trinidad and Tobago: Examining the Complexities of Technology Affordances and Constraints

network diagram 2

The Influence of Digital Platforms on Entrepreneurship in Trinidad and Tobago: Examining the Complexities of Technology Affordances and Constraints

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Digital platforms which are used by entrepreneurs globally have changed the way many Trinidad and Tobago entrepreneurs interact. However, while it is commonly accepted that digital platforms change the processes and practices of entrepreneurs, their influence on entrepreneurship is insufficiently examined and understood. At the time of this research, the COVID-19 global pandemic was not yet a reality and the prospect of living and working in a physically distanced world was not on our radar. With an anticipated rise in unemployment, and higher dependence on digital technology, and e-commerce, understanding the best way to develop and use digital platforms for entrepreneurship locally is now critical. This research is timely as it asks questions about the influence of digital platforms on entrepreneurship in Trinidad and Tobago and provides insights that can inform the development of frameworks to support and grow e-commerce ecosystems and initiatives. The problem is that existing research tends to focus on developed countries and high-growth entrepreneurship, and this leaves a gap in our understanding of low-growth entrepreneurship, which represents most entrepreneurial activity. Trinidad and Tobago is classified as a high-income country by the World Bank, ranked above average on the United Nations Human Development Index (HDI), a measure of human development using indicators such as life expectancy, health, knowledge, and standard of living, yet is continuously categorised as a developing state by the United Nations. Notably, the country is attempting to diversify its oil and gas economy through supporting entrepreneurship.

The study began with a pilot study followed by interviews and focus groups with entrepreneurs and entrepreneur stakeholders and the use of secondary data. Platforms used by entrepreneurs in the study are diverse and include multifaceted social media platforms (such as Facebook, Instagram, YouTube), messaging platforms (such as WhatsApp) e-commerce platforms (such as Amazon, Shopify), gig-economy platforms (such as Uber), payment platforms (such as PayPal) and e-learning platforms (such as FutureLearn). Locally created platforms are also studied. The research provides insight into a country with low levels of high-growth entrepreneurship but high levels of opportunity-driven entrepreneurship, and relatively good levels of internet access, and telecommunications infrastructure. It sheds light on entrepreneurship in a twin-island state, and a multi-cultural society, with a distinctive creative sector and an informal, fragmented entrepreneurial ecosystem. Its major findings highlight the extent to which historical socio-economic, and cultural forces comprise both drivers and barriers to entrepreneurial activities and outcomes in Trinidad and Tobago.  It concludes that increased visibility on digital platforms and online collaboration are helpful but insufficient because offline social interaction and networks are essential for entrepreneurs. Importantly, as well, the research examines the merits and limits of digital communication and online learning, and unpacks the potential for the development of locally created digital platforms and services when entrepreneurs tap into deep-seated local culture and historical knowledge about the environment within which they operate and make the best use of resources available.

The study also examines why online payment has had limited success for local entrepreneurs, while a billion dollars of goods are bought overseas online annually in Trinidad and Tobago. It explores the difficulties entrepreneurs face with copying, distraction and manipulation even though benefiting from the visibility, ease and speed that come with digital platform use. It found that when entrepreneurs use digital platforms, the benefits gained are in tension with platform rules that continuously change creating uncertainty, unpredictability and risk. Technology affordances and constraints, vary by degree, coexist and intertwine with culture, social norms and historically situated economic structures to both support and limit the potential for entrepreneurs to use digital platforms and capitalise on their benefits.  This report summarises the research and provides recommendations to the Trinidad and Tobago government which should help them to understand the influence and limits of digital platforms as they seek to support and grow entrepreneurship in general and e-commerce in particular. For entrepreneurs, it provides recommendations that allow for a deeper understanding of how they may use and create digital platforms successfully.

 

Alone, To Dance We Must Still Dare

A deafening silence is filling our well of discontent.

Desperate, newsfeeds languish without laughter

‘Cause the ground has been grasped from beneath our feet,

So we yield and to Mercy, we beg

As furious, speedy spirals dizzy us,

Yet limbs, fingers and toes invisibly tangle to show what we share.

We isolate under the phones on our heads

And so still we meet.

Our musical tongue confesses

The volume in our homes we pump.

Alone,

To dance, we must still dare.

 

In these uncertain times here are some songs from all around the world to consciously inform, inspire, and uplift as we wait for the world’s storm to end. I pray we awaken from the wreckage, spirited to new meaning and inner sunshine, for one and most importantly for all. 

Spotify Playlist – Consciously Uplifting in Quarantine

YouTube Playlist – Consciously Uplifting in Quarantine

 

 

May We Meet When We Close Our Eyes

I close my eyes and watch

the grainy screen of my broken black and white TV.

Shhhhhhhhhhhhhhh humming in my ear.

I adjust the antenna   –   to reach the satellite situated within all that orbits me.

Till it turns into beautiful shades of grey.

settling me in for the ride

carrying me within its stillness.

Till I see it.

A twinkle

A sparkle

of light!

Then it Hits me.

Colorful, PixiliateD

An-i-mated lights

from North to South within a rare rainbow within which I sail …

Into the depths of a space where time has no gravity pulling at me

                                         I EXIST

                                 Close your eyes.

                              There we may meet.

 

Most persons are so absorbed in the contemplation of the outside world that they are wholly oblivious to what is passing on within themselves

Nikola Tesla

The Nikola Tesla Treasury

 

 

close-your-eyes-v7.jpg

 

Resources

Scientists Prove That Telepathic Communication Is Within Reach (Smithsonian Magazine)

Communicating through Dreams: Intercultural Tensions in the value of the immaterial (Gabriela Coronado – Journal – Dimensión Antropológica)

Are Telepathy Experiments Stunts or Science? (MIT Technology Review)

 

There’s been a break in

 

But I didn’t know.

 

No signs of forced entry.

No police reports.

 

But they say there has been a break in.

 

I had no idea.

It was breaking 6 o’clock news;

So it must be true.

 

Jewelry in the box? Yes!

Computers on the counter? Uh-huh.

Cards in wallet? Check!

 

But there has been a break in;

 

Or so I have been told.

 

They say more than once.

 

They know who I am.

They know where I live.

They know where I go.

 

There was a break in;

 

When I was at home.

When I was at work.

When I was at play.

 

There’s been a break in.

Strangers came.

Interlopers unknown.

Now I sense I am never alone. 

Screen Shot 2019-11-23 at 8.30.18 PM

Source: World’s Biggest Data Breaches and Hacks – Information is Beautiful: David McCandless

ARTificial Intelligence (AI) / \ Intelligence ARTificial (IA) 5 Senses, 6th Sensor)

We pride ourselves on our intelligence. Our ability to figure things out, apply knowledge, manipulate our environment and advance science. Yet our emotional wiring dictates our actions too. Wiring, connected to our integrated senses leads us to imagine, to express, to create. Our Natural Intelligence (NI). NI that is now influenced by ARTificial (AI).

Can understanding how to tune into and harness our senses augment our intelligence, increase our wisdom and develop our 6th sense; or will we come to depend on a 6th sensor?

  • Anosmia (Loss of Smell)
  • Deafness (Loss of Hearing)
  • Hypoesthesia (Loss of Touch)
  • Ageusia (Loss of Taste)
  • Visual Impairment (Loss of Sight)

Isolate: SIGHT

Oak brown and midnight blue, moonbeam lit.

Blue skies and pink blooms, caught by sunlight.

Bronzed dawn and dusky sunset, twinkling twilights.

Tall, short,

Plump, lean;

Everything in between.

Isolate: SOUND 

A flying duet?

A cornered whisper.

Heels hit the floor.

Bang!

Grrr …

Splat.

Isolate: TOUCH

Spongy, soft.

Tickling, ice-cold.

Burning, stinging.

Smooth … 

Bump.

Melting …

Isolate: TASTE

Sour but sweet,

Spicy and salty,

Bitter

Hot

Fusion.

Isolate: SMELL

What’s that smell? … … … ?

… … … ? I do not know. Take me there …

MERGE: THE 6th SENSE

Kettle whistling; sweet cocoa tea, and fresh coconut baked brown fill the air returning me to my mother’s kitchen. Steam rising, buttery melts … tiny feet dangling.

Extra Sensory Perception.

ARTiculate.

MOVE, DANCE

SPEAK, SING, NARRATE

WRITE, SKETCH, PAINT

PIANO PLAY

The 10th symphony: A new gravitational force changes time

ARTificial Intelligence (AI) 

  • DIGITAL Sight?
  • DIGITAL Hearing?
  • DIGITAL Touch?
  • DIGITAL Smell?
  • DIGITAL Taste?

FIT THE 6th SENSOR

Ambient Intelligence (AmI)

NI: What AmI AI?

AI: Intelligence ARTificial IA

Machine Intelligence; Superintelligence; 

ARTificial Intelligence (Iplay the 100th symphony.

Super-ambient-intelligence (SAmI)

Super-AmI?

 

The Local, Historical and Cultural in Web Science: Reflections on WebSci19

I emerged from Boston Logan International airport for WebSci19 in search of transport to find taxis, but no people on one end of the taxi rank. On the other end, there were a lot of people waiting for a taxi; but there were no taxis. They were all waiting for an Uber or a Lyft. When I go to a new city, I love to take a moment to just sit and gaze as people go by. The lovely hot Boston weather offered up the chance at the end of one conference day. Many people were wearing airpods, seemingly unaware of their surroundings. Maybe they were talking to someone far away, or maybe the person they were talking to was just around the corner. Maybe that woman was listening to a podcast, or was it music? I wondered what would happen if I stopped them to find out … for research purposes … to find out not just what, but why. 

Boston appeared a clean city, organised, but also quiet, as students were away for summer. I also found it somewhat sombre, with not too many smiles on offer, but where, as with all places some people can be so very kind. One man went searching for a receipt that fell out of my bag and blew away in the wind. After a thorough search, he brought it back to me where I sat, a reminder of human unpredictably, in our data-driven world. The web is disruptive, yes, but the uniqueness of Boston would no doubt influence how this disruption would evidence itself in this city, versus Calcutta in India, Southampton in the UK, Beijing in China, Nairobi in Kenya or a local community in one of these cities.

This was my second Web Science conference and I was again struck by how much research was specific to Twitter. My research found that wary of ‘fake’ many people reserve their most precious interaction and information for the offline world. Additionally, much of the data that could benefit academic research is not inclusive or not freely available.  So, what does this mean for the results derived from the data? Data that social and economic services seem to be increasingly dependent upon. I came to this conference to present my Ph.D. Research on technology affordances and constraints of digital platforms on entrepreneurs in Trinidad and Tobago, which looked at platforms including Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp, YouTube, Amazon, PayPal and Uber. I found that while using digital platforms speed up communication and globally, limitations are evident as they usually don’t cater for local nuances, culture, and social norms, which remain relatively stable even as digital technology and services continually and rapidly change and disrupt.

I was encouraged by some presentations emphasising just how interdisciplinary Web Science needs to be. The keynote by Fabien Gandon was one that stood out to me as it gave helpful explanations of why not only social but historical context is important by illustrating how understanding such context could potentially help us to understand the future of automated cars (electric cars existed in 1942) and job loss with developments in Artifical Intelligence.

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Key Note presention (Web Sci19): Fabien Gandon

I clearly understand that local, social and cultural understanding, historical context and philosophical insight, can help provide clues about unintended consequences and outcomes, needed for problem-solving and problem prevention globally. It’s one reason I am delighted to be doing research for SHAPE-ID, a project focused on developing this kind of interdisciplinary research in Europe, within arts, humanities and social sciences (ASHSS) as well as with science, technology engineering and math (STEM) disciplines at Trinity College Dublin’s Long Room Hub Arts & Humanities Research Institute. Techilosophy is also an attempt to illustrate those connections. Even if we don’t always acknowledge it, each one of us is intricately interconnected with each other in an increasingly tangled web, a web which needs all perspectives to untangle. 

Simulation: Welcome to Our World

Zoom in

Enter Simulation

It’s dusk

She’s taking a leisurely stroll through her neighbourhood having just spent some time with her cousins. As they chat they braided her hair into intricate designs, mathematically mapped onto her head. She is walking towards someone. He’s wearing an eye-catching outfit made with materials, similar to hers, material woven and positioned to limit the effects of ‘saccadic’ eye movements [1], or the everyday rapid eye flickering, that cause our eyes to go momentarily blind to things and thwart our concept of time. They see each other, at just the right time. They sit for the ceremony, feasting on the sound of fine-tuned instruments designed with algorithmic precision to lift everyone’s spirit and help each person learn more about themselves and each other.

Our World

We live in a world informed by mathematical logic that supports the infinite potential to scale or to contract with the help of feedback loops and as the need arises; to do so deliberately and structurally, using geometrics like rectangles within rectangles, spheres within spheres, triangles within triangles x infinity. To do so individually, yet collectively, intentionally, artistically, logically, iteratively and recursively, in a linear but cyclical way that is informed by conscious knowledge systems. Life is lived at the intersection of mathematics, science, technology, art and community, influenced by the African continent [1] using base two arithmetic, which informs the binary code 1 and 0 used to develop digital technology today [1].

Reflecting on the past in the present for the future

The way we live in the present should be informed by how we lived in the past, yet as we move forward we rarely reflect. Digital technology is non-linear, but most contemporary story-telling still takes linear form, with a beginning, a middle and an end.

The Manual: A story we tell ourselves

  1. The evolution of human consciousness: Science and technology help us to understand our sense of being and our relationship to all life.

In our world, markets and technology do not guide us but instead the intention and desire to understand who we are not only individually but collectively inform our decisions. We become more empathetic, moving away from fear; developing our consciousness of life.

  1. Decisions at the individual and global level consider cause and effect individually and globally

A simplistic conceptualisation of the universal law of cause and effect states that whatever someone does will have consequences for them and for someone else at some point in time [3]. In our world, there is a collective understanding that both your intention and what you do determine what happens to you and to others. We seek balance.

  1. Interconnected and Interdependent: Anyone, anywhere, can contribute to answers

In our world, research is everyone’s domain. Thought experiments abound. We do not keep our ideas and expertise to ourselves because we rest knowing we take care of each other. We teach and we learn; we learn and we teach.

  1. Science is a servant to life

In our world, science is advanced based on what we want our best life to be. Technology isn’t developed simply because we can develop it. Technology is designed and used to serve the ecosystem of life.

It’s night

They jump up to join in the party; swinging to the music in the here and in the now. I join them. We are free, yet we are one.

Zoom out

A lit satellite view reflects her patterned braids

Centralised but decentralised,

We create like Picasso [4]; simple yet complex,

All seen; but anonymised,

Borders blur, space is reconceptualised,

Time moves slowly.

It’s dawn

Relaxed in discomfort,

Joyfully, and humbly resolved,

Let’s meet outside.

Enter reality

References

  1. Eglash, R., (1999) African Fractals: Modern Computing and Indigenous Design.  New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.
  2. Preston, J.M. (2017), Games, Dreams and Consciousness: Absorption and Perception, Cognition, Emotion, in Boundaries of Self and Reality Online, J. Gackenbach and J. Bown, Editors.  Academic Press: San Diego. p. 205-237.
  3. Bruce, R.R. (1988), The Law of Karma and the Principle of Causation. Philosophy East and West, 38(4): p. 399.
  4. McGee, J (2007), Primitivism on Trial: The “Picasso and Africa” Exhibition in South Africa. Res: Anthropology and Aesthetics, 52(2007): p. 161-167.

 

Lub … Dub … Step … Rise … We’re Live

Heartbeat -staff v3
These five black lines are known as the Staff or Stave and are used to write music notes. The higher the music note is on the lines, the higher the pitch. The red line represents a heartbeat (PQRST). The 2 primary sounds of a regular heartbeat are Lub (S1) and Dub (S2).

Listen. To the music of your heart pulsating your life. Can you hear your heart – beat?

There are 2 primary notes.

LUB (Step 1)

DUB (Step 2)

A synchronised tempo keeping us alive.

With rhythmic therapeutic sound.

Silence.

Pirate radio, illegal downloads, uploads.

Smashed, mashed.

Notation, Pause.

Computer record.

Fire bun …

Volcano smokes,

bubbling wine,

flowing through bodies.

Back to the beat.

A new sound above the base blows our brain,

And motors our movement.

Drum roll please …

Rise up.

With united applause

We’re live.

 

What time is it? Seasons, Memories, Dreams and Moments

clock-hours-minutes-9352

“Knowledge is authentic and complete only when it is a way of life, when beyond the mastery of a science there is scrupulous attention to what a good life means…”

Professor Souleymane Bachir Diagne

What time is it?

Why we remember, what we remember and when we remember at any point in time is a mystery. Yet scattered memories can form unrelenting thoughts in our minds every day.  They also reveal mysterious connections in our nightly slumber where we can fly like a bird, fall without landing, or chat with someone we forgot. A dream could unfold a realistically bizarre scenario like a conversation about a leaking ceiling in a bar that turns into a plane.

Past, present, and future have always been marked by social events and seasons like winter, summer, spring, and fall or rainy and dry. Technology removed the limitations of these markers. With electricity, we work when the sun goes down but our body clocks still alarm to wake at day. We harvest tomatoes all year round with the help of greenhouses but they are not nearly as delicious as when eaten in season.

Before frequent flier air travel and the internet, our thoughts were more or less limited to our local communities and the occasional encounter; visit or visitor. Yet they were still influenced by human conditions like anger, sorrow, envy, frustration and shame that weigh on us; or courage, joy, hope, compassion, and love that lift us. Still, even then no-one could stop us from traveling in our dreams to see and to experience the new and the impossible that sometimes serendipitously reached into our waking lives or let us glimpse what was to come.

Who knows… maybe what we dreamed then reflected what we do now.

Written text took hold of our imaginations. Technology carried us beyond our communities. With radio we listened; With TV we watched; With computers, we now listen, watch, read, write, capture and communicate with mobile devices, that expect us to relinquish our thoughts and memories to their service; with the hope they serve us in return.

Devices war for our eyes, constantly trying to bring our attention to someone else’s moment by leading us away from moments of our own. Time and space are scattered with our bits and bytes, some of which we look for, stumble upon or have left for others to find.

A valuable commodity, time is bought and sold. Yet the purchase never comes with an unlimited guarantee. It can be taken away from our lived experience in a fraction of a second, tomorrow or years from today. It is not only linear but cyclical as African philosophers, remind us. So, we slowly return to incomplete text, like that of the Ethiopian, Zera Yacob, inaccurately relegated to a ‘pre-enlightenment’ age.

In this season, my present of presence is a lazy Sunday; music warming my soul, like the sunlight, letting my spirit soar; while the sound of raindrops on rooftops draw me into a billow of pillows that swallow me whole with comfort. A memory of dancing with family and friends. Laughing; lots of laughing. A reflected smile. The pleasure of biting into a delicious sun-kissed mango. It’s a dream. Yet I am awake. I am alive!

Seasons, memories and dreams collapse so there is just one inexplicable moment of utter peace.

It’s time for a toast.

Here’s to the moment.